Domestic facts

Who invented the ironing board? The history of your domestic items


Image via Flickr creative commons from Diesel Demon

Although many of us might like to consider ourselves diligent when it comes to keeping everything clean and tidy around the home, the reality is that the majority of those of us who’ve got used to everyday domestic tools such as ironing boards would be lost without them. In fact, it’s also worth remembering that more and more people are increasingly working longer and longer hours just to keep up with the rising cost of living as wages continue to stagnate. It’s all the more inevitable, then, that we should be so reliant on domestic appliances of various sorts. But what you might not be aware of is just how they’ve evolved to the stage they’re at in the present day.

As an article from observes, the household appliances we’ve come to rely on have been developed over the course of generations. Indeed, many of the most popular domestic tools have come about almost by accident, as previous generations sought to relieve themselves of the drudgery and hardship that for so long characterised domestic labour. It’s important to remember that for centuries, women – for it was predominantly women who were engaged in completing domestic tasks – who really shouldered the burden of domestic labour; this included not just cleaning the home but raising children. As such, this unpaid domestic labour played a crucial role in enabling the economic system to continue to function.

As the 19th century drew to a close, a growing number of labour-saving devices started to appear. The demand had of course always been there, but rising working-class consumption enabled this demand to be met. The sudden explosion of new domestic appliances on to the market, obviously, had a truly transformative impact on the way we live. It also freed up more women to enter the paid labour force, among many other social changes. The arrival of electrification, in particular, spurred on the development of new domestic appliances.

According to, the development of new kitchen appliances, in particular, really started to gather steam from the mid-19th century onwards as more people sought to devise new and superior ways of both storing and preparing food. Gas stoves gradually started to gain in popularity from the mid-1950s onwards, while by the early part of the 20th century electric stoves were becoming increasingly commonplace in kitchens. The years after the First World War also saw a surge in consumerism, which again spurred the development of new kitchen appliances.

The refrigerator is arguably the most important of all domestic innovations, and made its first appearance in 1914 when the first patent was filed. Until the refrigerator arrived, foods had to be stored in ice boxes – which, naturally, didn’t provide for much longevity. By 1944, some 85 per cent of households in the US had a refrigerator of their own. Also, in the 1920s, dishwashers with permanent plumbing appeared – representing a major advance on the primitive previous models. While the first microwave oven patent was filed for in 1940, it wasn’t until seven years later that a marketable product as launched – and it took another 20 years for a countertop microwave to appear. By the mid-1970s, however, they had become relatively commonplace, which goes to show just how rapidly new domestic appliances can carve out an audience.

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